Ever have a momentary panic when thrust in front of a camera lens during a family photography shoot?
Before-iPhones, Instagram and Facebook a camera was only seen during awkwardly posed family portraits at the local studio or your snap happy mom who loved to pull out old photo albums when company came over.
These days, of course, in a blink of an eye, your face is splashed all over social media and there’s nowhere to hide.
As a photographer, I want nothing more than for parents to love and cherish their photos, but If you’ve ever spent one second looking for someone to take family pictures,
you’ve probably have come across “The rules.”
Some professionals will insist there are rules and a photojournalist like myself will insist they are “principles.”
If you don’t like being photographed or hate taking pictures, it’s probably because you don’t like the“rules.”
No matter where you to take your pictures, at home, indoors, outdoors…
The rules make parents think about way too much stuff that they must take care of BEFORE someone shows up to photograph their family.
By defining the term, we can better understand just how it works and its role in the family photo industry.
Up first, let’s see if I can list a few of the biggest rules in the family photography industry right now.
- Find a good photographer
- Coordinate what you wear, but not too much
- Bribe your children and your spouse
- Limit distracting patterns and large logos.
- Wait for the photographer to tell you how to pose
- Wait for the photographer to tell what to do
- Have activities prepared
- Pick a location (or two)
- Make sure you’re fed and well rested
- Relax, smile & have fun
There are others, but ten is such a pretty number.
So why am I so snotty about them?
Because I don’t believe they work.
And why do I believe this?
Rules are destructive to creativity.
The debate that follows might make your head spin. To resolve such spinning, a definition for the term “rule” helps, but before we talk about rules, we must first talk about instructions.
“what do I do?” “how do I act?” “where do I put my hands?”
These common questions that run through the mind of someone preparing to have their pictures taken are symptoms of the type of inner conflict one might experience by suddenly being thrust in front of someone’s camera.
During conflict is when most people are receptive to instructions.
Instructions, on the whole, are simply lessons learned from experience that aid in making a present experience less strained with conflict.
During mini sessions, my bet is you don’t arrive at the specified location, pose any which way you want and hope it looks brilliant.
Fall, Spring and any time in between, a professional photographer will most likely be giving you a set of instructions and ideas on how to pose. It’s almost necessary with the roughly 15-30 minute time window.
So, function of the instructions is to help you out of conflicts you’ll no doubt encounter the moment your photographer snaps pictures of you.
Then there’s exceptions to the rules, also known as “a principal“
It’s not truly a rule, it’s more accommodating than a rule.
When we call something “a principal“, we mean this:
an instruction that applies but not necessarily always.
Principles are conditional and flexible.
They give you out when you need an out. They allow you some leeway in what you do during your photosession. In most situations, as long as you follow your gut you are still following a principal.
Documentary family photography is grounded by “a principle.”
The photographer explains to you a set of principles to follow during your photoshoot, but you ultimately have the choice to forgo following them.
Finally, when we call something a “rule,” we mean an instruction that ALWAYS applies.
There’re no exceptions. You know the rules no matter what the situation is. Once you learn them, you always abide by them. If anything else, it satisfies the “to do list” craving, a memory aid that sticks to the brain like glue.
As a matter of fact, I believe the “rules” stoke the flames of anxiety before photo sessions.
With family photos, they don’t help moms, dads or children relax in front of the camera. Because the worst part is people remember them.
For first-time parents booking a family shoot with your newborn, you’re probably dying to learn “the rules of family photography.” A compulsory need to follow rules has a tendency to make faces and bodies look stiff and cardboard, like in someone’s final photos.
You might even hear a self-contradictory rule, “There are no rules in documentary family photography.”
In other words, nothing called a “rule” in documentary family photography actually applies.
Therefore, given that there are potential exceptions, these instructions you’re hearing should not truly be called “rules” and instead should be called “principals.”
As a result, your wall for having your photo taken will probably exhibit the hallmarks of candid pictures.
You’ll offer yourself the opportunity to make your own mark on your family photos, evolve the art, and
Express your family’s own brand of personalities during your photoshoot.
Time To Break the Old Family Photography “rules” and evolve your perception to see the instructions less as rules and more than principles.
However, should you put yourself or others in jeopardy, by freezing up in front of a camera, give yourself the opportunity to bail on the instructions and do something different.
It’s finally time to unpack how to flip these old school rules into creative principles to
Infuse your family pictures with wonder and emotion.
Coming up next, we’ll dive into the common list mentioned above that many family photographers swear by and ways to break them during your next family photoshoot.